Lessons in Belonging: a book review

9780830843176I was slow in getting around to reading Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe. I had wanted to read it ever since I saw Erin Lane on a Regent Redux forum. But shortly after the book came in the mail, I lost it behind the couch.  For months. I had recently completed my time as pastor with a church (AKA as my lesson in ‘not belonging). I continued to attend weekly worship at another church but felt fairly disconnected. My interest in ‘belonging; waned. When I unearthed the book from its hiding place, I was completely  sucked in by Erin’s story.

Lane describes herself in the book with these words:

I am a twenty-nine-year-old who wears skinny jeans, man boots and Mac’s Red Russian lipstick. I live in North Carolina but was born in Nashville, reared in Ohio, raised near Chicago, schooled in Ann Arbor, married outside of Charlotte and awakened in San Francisco. I want to live in Seattle some day, but these days I’m making my home in Durham. I call myself a Christian and a feminist too.

I believe in being the church. I believe in attending church. I just don’t like to do it. I don’t like when the older people talk too long even though I need to be reminded of our shared history. I don’t like it when the young babies cry too loudly even though I need to be reminded of our shared need. I don’t take well to authority figures telling me what to do. And yet I have a lot of opinions on what they should do.

I like Jesus; I just don’t like when he’s separated from the other persons of the Trinity like the cheese who stands alone. I believe in tradition if there’s a good reason behind it. It’s just that I often can’t get a straight answer about what that reason is.

I have a master’s degree in theology, but I don’t want to hear your dissertation. I want specifics, like how you picture God when you pray and what you say to the beggar on the street who asks for money. I am interested in women and men who want to belong and are ready to do so with people who don’t look and sound like them.

The trouble is I have a hard time committing to these people, because as pastor Lillian Daniel puts it, “In church, in community, humanity is just too close to look good.” (17).

Lane’s memoir shares her struggle to belong to  a church. She struggles with patriarchal pastors,  artificial gender roles, and feeling ‘lost’ and ‘disconnected’ in the congregation. She does learn belonging by choosing to stick with a community, to show up at stuff, to read the community charitably, to be vulnerable and to offer ‘her portion.’ But this is no Pollyanna tale. Lane’s church angst persists. She sees the gifts of Christian community and belonging, she leans in, but it remains a struggle

I read this book with interest, because I really wanted to hear how her story turned out. She doesn’t attend church with her youth pastor husband, and at one point, moves to Seattle for a season (for work, but also to figure things out). Her marriage to Rush and cold feet about commitment, is also a window into her struggle to commit to a local congregation.

But reading this book reminded of some of ‘the lessons in belonging’ I have  had in my own church journey. I haven’t struggled in committing to churches the same way Lane has, but I can think of a couple of churches that I didn’t feel I belonged to until I committed to them for a coupe of years. There is no shortcut to knowing and being known.

I recommend this book for anyone who likewise struggles with ‘going to church’ or feels angsty about committing to a community. Lane is winsome and funny.  And she keeps it real. Despite being so theologically thoughtful, this isn’t a preachy book. I give this four-and-half stars. You should totally read it.

Note: I received this book from SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.

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I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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